New IBM tech sharpens flat panels

IBM's prototype offers a new class of screen display - SXGA technology may point the way for the future of LCDs

IBM has a prototype LCD that may be the future for flat panel displays. The prototype is based on IBM's Roentgen technology offering a new class of resolution categorised as quad SXGA (Super eXtended Graphics Array). Analysts say that the new resolution will result in paper-like readability. "There will be no more running to printers, the new resolution will allow users to read displays faster and retain information better," Martin Reynolds, vice president at Dataquest.

IBM officials said that the prototype may be what the final products will be based on, but they are far from settling on the final specifications.

The prototype offers 200 pixels per inch over a 2,560 by 2,048 grid for a total of 5.2m color pixels. According to IBM officials, the panel can display two full-sized 8.5in by 11in documents side by side.

Pricing and availability have not been determined. The company is currently demonstrating the prototype to potential customers.

The initial commercial uses are likely vertical applications such as CAD/CAM applications, chip design, medical applications and scientific visualization applications.

Analysts don't expect the display capabilities to reach mainstream consumers for another three to four years.

According to Robert Wisnieff, manager of advanced technology display lab at IBM "one of the gating events is Windows not supporting high resolutions".

Reynolds agrees with Wisnieff and expects that the ClearType technology found in the Microsoft Reader program for viewing eBooks on Pocket PCs will find its way into Microsoft's operating system by 2002. This should help viewing text on high-resolution flat panel displays.

Other limiting factors for the high-resolution panels are a lack of hardware and software support.

According to Wisnieff, there are currently no single graphics cards that can support the prototype -- Wisnieff is using four cards to demonstrate the prototype. And Reynolds points out that there is no software that allows users to realize the potential of the panels.

The prototype display is a digital panel, which is the direction that the market is moving towards. Digital displays allow for more data to be processed by a PC and shown on a panel.

"Digital was clearly the way to go because of the amount of information we expect to be displayed on these new panels," said Wisnieff.

According to Reynolds, more analogue flat panels are in the market but digital is the future. And the future looks bright as the market is expected to explode as panel making plants in Korea and Taiwan come online.

Dataquest estimates that 5.8 million desktop LCD panels are expected to ship this year and that number should increase by 15m in 2001.

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